Nicholas Quirke believed he was visiting the Exit/Entry bureau for the last time on 16 June 2021 when he went to pick up his passport. He deliberately went early so that’s he could also get back to Chanchunjie to register for one last time with the police. Annoyingly he had run out of time on his bike package and ended up having to walk to the station and then to the Bureau. As he walked to the office he spotted a large gathering on the path a head of him and as he got closer he could see that some of them were in old style red army uniforms. He got some interested looks as he approached and he pointed at the cap of one young man who immediately burst out laughing. As some were carrying guns it looked like it was a possibly a film crew, but he could not see any cameras or vans and as he did not have the wherewithal to start questioning the large group he walked on ruminating on their presence and the reasons for their attire. He got to the station and discovered that although he had been instructed to collect it on the 16th it was not ready and he was day early he would have to come back on the 17th. He was sent away and he laughed out loud that he treated the trip as his final visit and savoured every sight when he was now going to have to return. As the temperature was now in the mid 30’s he had promised himself a visit to ‘Veggie Table’ to get a vegan ice cream and as he now had plenty of time he sauntered to the Lama Temple and the cafe. For the first time he noted that the walls of King’s Joy, the 4 Michele’s star restaurant he had now eaten at twice had names written over the bricks and as he examined further his assumption that they were the names of celebrities who had dined there was wrong as he spotted Albert Einstien’s name and George Bernard Shaw’s and though they may well have been prominent vegetarians, he seriously doubted they eaten in the glamorous diner. Whatever the reason he was quite pleased that he had frequented an establishment where Leonardo Di Caprio, Toby Maguire, Candice Bergen, Natalie Portman and Michael Tyson had eaten. For him the vegan Mr Whippy he was served was as good as it was going to get that day. He had no other plans and had not bought his I-Pad with him as he expected to be going back home and he made his way back to the apartment. He wasn’t teaching at the school that evening, but did have an online lesson with Dylan and they watched the latest episode of Lissey Story before he sat down for his lesson only to discover it was cancelled. This meant there was time for a movie and they watched ‘Tragic Jungle’ which was ‘And then there Were None’ set in the jungle in Mexico and Belize, Agatha Christie on mescaline. Watching this film made him feel like he was on drugs. The pace was impossibly slow yet hypnotic as the lusts and passions of a group of illicit workers, who scar and bleed the trees for their sap, lose their lives. There is some kind of message in there but it was too dense for him to want to really work it out and he chose to sleep instead. 17 June 2021 felt like a repeat of his 16th, as he followed the same path, in the same intense heat to the Bureau, though the outcome was the one he had expected the day before. The x-ray machine was broken and they searched his bag, which was bad news as he knew they would confiscate his Go-Pro. When this had happened before he caused a fuss but the heat, that it really was likely that it was his last ever visit made him passive and he handed it over with his only noticeable protest being the photographing of the camera and its temporary guardians. As on the 16th he took another slight detour to eat yet another vegan Ice cream from Veggie table which, at 12 yuan was a delectable bargain. He again took a train back too Changchunjie and made his way to the police station. He had written a short note of appreciation in Chinese to give to the officer who time after time had taken his details and he was disappointed that for the first time in all the months he had registered the policeman was not there. He was given his certificate and he went home for lunch. He was working that afternoon and as soon as the food had been consumed he left for The Little Nap Cafe. It was such a hot day that he had planned to take the subway but once he was on the bike something compelled him to ride the whole way. He didn’t have the energy to lose patience with Willis and Harry and though he was initially reluctant to let them play a game on the I-Pad he finally with 10 minutes left succumbed to their pleas. It was English after all and there would be some benefits to them. They started watching a film but they were both so caught up in the ‘Mosquito Coast’, it was decided to finish the season asap. Thus the day ended for him in the delirious unworldly of Mexico and heat drenched sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was charmed by the stories that defined ancient Huizhou city , on 15 June 2021, established in 221 BC and yet another village that had maintained the integrity of its originating framework. Built on a hillside the narrow streets, though filled with contemporary shop fronts still echoed with a deep long past that had him wondering if a former life had seen him marauding the confined alleyways. The distressed , discoloured walls were haunting and catching gamins at play in the mouldering scenes were oddly familiar and added to the atmosphere. It was unfortunates that a disturbed sleep and the intense heat and humidity hampered his enjoyment and though they spent a good few hours exploring the streets and in particular the memorial archways that were discovered along the route, finding refuge in a cool air conditioned cafe was a kind of relief and gave him the opportunity to reflect on what he had seen and his experience so far. The stories that vied as his favourites of the day had resulted in the building of commemorative arches. Huang’s Chastity Archway honoured the wife of Wei Pei, a citizen who died young and in a staggering display of fidelity and chastity his wife starved herself to death by hunger strike when her husband died young. He was also fond of the Zhixiu Chogguang Arch constructed to remember the sad plight of two officers in the Ming Dynasty, Jiang Yingxiao and Jiang Bingqian who were framed by disloyal comrades and put to death. The calumny was discovered and their names were restored by erection of another memorial. But the city was not only famous for these fables but its residential buildings and the importance of Fengshui and yinyang in their construction, ancestral temples, a nine dragon wall and it also boasted a a Ming Dynasty Bridge that was expected to stand for 1000 years. This was the last sight they took in before driving to the airport to return the car and begin the journey back to Beijing. They expected a long wait at the airport though despite weather warnings the flight left early. It was subject to some alarming turbulence but they landed safely and 30 minutes early which was a bonus as they had expected to get home about 1am but in fact he was in bed and ready for sleep by 12.30pm.
Nicholas Quirke was remembering on 14 June 2021 how he had celebrated Dragon Boat Festival the previous year, on a boat in Dragon Gorge eating zhong zi. This year he would be on a boat again and the plan was to get zhong zi to consume as they sailed down Xin’an river in the beautiful Huizhou landscape. They started the day though with a walk from their hotel along the shoreline of Qiandao lake. The heat was already overpowering and as always he was thankful for having a fan to maintain sone sense of cool. Where on the drive the day before the rain had been incessant their journey on this day was in the merciless sun. The scenery through Zhenjiang and back into Anhui province was beautiful and once they were on the narrow road alongside Xin’an river and on their way to the Tang Dynasty Shendu town from where they would take a ferry they lost count of the times they stopped to photograph the views and leave his DNA in year another corner of the immense country he had been living in. They were both surprised by the number of villages encountered and how densely populated yet remote from any city they were and it was hard for him to imagine how the communities could survive and thrive. They bought the ferry tickets but there was an hour and half wait and the heat was so oppressive they went in search of sorbet. The Main Street of the town which, seemed to be the town, felt deserted and when they got to the little parlour there was no one there. His presence was of fascination to the neighbouring stores and as they waited for the proprietor to come by they were quizzed about where he came from. Not for the first time they seemed to think he was Russian. They ordered a mango sorbet and a watermelon juice when the owner arrived who immediately departed to buy a water melon. A young boy stood staring at him for an eternity and the drink and ice desert when it came was like nectar to their parched throats. Icy cold it cooled them down for their walk back to the ferry. They paid extra again to sit on deck and were seated at a table withy a couple who were equally fascinated by his presence. Once again, he was without a shadow of a doubt the only Laowai on board. The journey down the river was exquisite. The scenery, the villages, the boats they passed by were mesmerising. The first township they passed by featured some fascinating garden designs that had clearly been done for the tourists and even the small water front cafe featured a cast of locals playing cards and enjoying village life. The second village they stopped at was home to a museum all about weddings and out the back was a 1000 year old tree which was the widest he had ever seen. He was familiar now with seeing the walls with faded, red slogans which were a ghostly reminder of the sabotage that the Cultural revolution wrought on the historic buildings. The final experience of the trip was the gala performance by the locals of a fishing village of the historic 9 ways to catch a fish, from nets, to spearing to cormorants. Accompanied by drums, music and to him an incomprehensible commentary they watched with fascination the re-enactment of ancient rural life. There were no fish killed and anything caught was returned to the water and though his vegan sensibilities were ruffled it was a mesmerising and elegant pageant. On the return journey down the river as he was sipping a tea he felt a leaf hit his face and get caught in in his glasses as he pulled it away and threw it to he discovered it was a huge winged bug which caused a commotion with the fellow passengers who witnessed the scene. They praised his composure in grabbing it and hurling it away. If he had known that it was terrifying looking bug he may not have been so calm. They day finished with a drive back to to Huangshan city where they ordered another takeaway. He liked the food a lot till he found himself chewing on a rogue piece of meat in one of the dishes. It put him off his food and he had a long soak in the bath and read to compensate. When he went to bed his stomach felt troubled but he was not sure if that was the meat or the coconut milk and mango bubble tea he had consumed. Needless to say it was a disturbed nights sleep that followed.
Nicholas Quirke was wet to his core on 13 June 2021 and it was not just the incessant rain fall that caused him to be in this state. Even though he was wearing a rain mac, the high humidity caused him to swelter inside the plastic covering and he might just as well have not bothered wearing it. They were moving on to Qingdao lake which was in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang. It was a man man made lake formed by the completion of the Xin’an River hydroelectric station in 1959 when he valley was flooded. The islands were the peaks of mountains and submerged in the lake, at the foot of Wu Shi Mountain, now known as Wu Shi island, lies an ancient city known as Shi Cheng built during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–200) and he discovered is well-preserved and undisturbed at a depth of 26–40 m (85–131 ft). Besides the city of Shi Cheng many other historic sites have been confirmed beneath the water. The drive was over 100 km and they stopped along the way to view the lake and capture images of it from above. Exploring the lakeside for views proved to be an adventurous activity and they followed some unconventional and untraveled paths. They were rather disappointed when they spotted a sign from where they could view Plum Peak Island. The path led them to a platform completely surrounded by trees and no view at all and laughed heartily at the effort they put in for nothing. It was also a surprise when another platform they encountered promised a view and they ended up scrabbling over rocks and scrubland. There were some spectacular moments though, even in the rain and when they finally got to check into the hotel he needed to change completely as he was sodden. The rain had stopped and they walked to the ferry terminal to take a cruise round the lake. Knowing that the lake was also famous for an event in 1994 known as the Qingdao Lake Incident when three hijackers boarded a boat full of tourists and set it on fire, killing all 32 passengers, mostly Taiwanese, on board, did not make him nervous but he found it hard to imagine why and to what end the sad episode achieved. There was no explanation at the time and soured relations between China and Taiwan. The three suspects were convicted on on 12 June and executed on 19th of June. It was exactly 27 years ago and he could imagine if the humidity and heat was anything like he was experiencing it could be enough to send someone mad. They paid 30 yuan extra to able to roam on board and enjoy an air conditioned cabin though most of the time was spent on deck and savouring the beautiful sights. The dismay they experienced over the Plum Peak view continued once they stepped ashore onto the island itself. In an uncharacteristic moment of thoughtlessness Peng, swayed by the sales pitch of the boat guide bought them a round trip on the cable car. They queued to go up for about 20 minutes to take a ride that lasted about 3 minutes. They were outraged as at the top there was only a place for tea and a viewing platform, although it was a lovely view the 60 yuan spent was a thorn in Peng’s side as they walked down from the peak and for the rest of the day. This was a good thing as on the next island they stopped at they were encouraged to pay for a ride round the shoreline to the next boat terminal. The 3.5 km the guide said the walk was turned out to be less then 1.8 and they took in sights and a temple along the walk in less than 25 minutes. The final stop on the cruise was on the ‘Island to remind you of Your Childhood’ which were 4 islands linked by bridges with a variety of attractions, including the largest opening locks in the world. By the time the were back on dry land and had spent a marathon 5 hours on the tour they were in need of some energy and sustenance and a stall selling freshly made mochi seemed the local place to stop and have an intake of sugar to fuel them for the 2 km walk back to the hotel. Going out for supper was off the table again and a take away sufficed. The hotel room, though basic was one he would remember forever as it was the only place he had been that provided a Mah Jong table and tiles for the customers relaxation. Exhaustion had settled in and he was too tiered to take advantage of the game and instead allowed a drowsy numbness to overtake him.
Nicholas Quirke was immersed in Chinese village history on 12 June 2021 as he absorbed the beautiful sights of two exceptionably well preserved rural villages that were established in feudal China. The first location and perhaps the most atmospheric, Hongcun had a life stretching back to 1131 when Wang Wen, a general during the Han Dynasty settled there and became a prosperous merchant and the town grew in size. The architecture and carvings of the residences date back to the Ming dynasty and are believed to be among the best of their kind in China. The first haunting image is of the village walls reflected in a tranquil lake and immediately he was transported back in time. Such is the beauty of this pastoral setting that poets and painters from the ancient times to the present have written and drawn poems and paintings here This was still a functioning village and it was clear that all in these buildings people still lived and worked. The narrow streets with its mostly low buildings were home to a number of museums and a myriad little shops selling food and tea and various tourist trinkets. It smelt old and it wasn’t just the damp but the ancient wood and brick stained with lichen and moss that gave it a unique aroma that added to the sense of being inside history. A 400-year-old waterway which, could be followed upstream to get into the village and downstream to get out, connected each residential household to the central Moon Fen pond which gave the town its most iconic image. Notable too as it was used as a location in the film, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. All of the streets were built alongside the waterway and small fish living in the waters could be watched fighting against the tide. The museum residences of the town, homes to the wealthier citizens showed that most properties had a central courtyard open to the elements and surrounded by symmetrical bays of rooms. They had much fun exploring the village and buildings, enjoyed a relaxing tea when the rain became to persistent, watched the local bakers making a delicious biscuit by chorusing as they beat the dough made from Kudzu and were particularly amused when he suggested filming Peng emerging from a cupboard and a visitor who invaded the scene was embarrassed and surprised when the doors opened and was invited to join Peng inside.. The second village they visited and equally well preserved was Xidi with a even longer history of over 1000 years. It was first established in the Northern Song Dynasty 960 and its rise was closely tied to the fortunes of the Hu Family, the offspring of the Emperor Li Ye in the Tang Dynasty. By 1465, during the Ming Dynasty, the Hu family had made great fortune in business as merchants, and they began to build many houses, ancestral halls, pathways, and bridges there. Again it was a place full of primitive simplicity and elegance and typical of Huizhou culture with exquisite three carvings architecture and pastoral scenery. It most impressive feature was Hu Wenguang’s Memorial Archway, erected at the entrance of the village and made of gray stone. It was a meritorious honour bestowed on Huwen Guang by the court to have the arch built and this folly was completed in 1578. Though the village echoed elements of Hongcun it was less commercialised. They relaxed with an afternoon tea before walking to a high pavilion to get a view of the town from above. As they traversed the streets and alleys his spirit communed with the generations that had toiled and lived in the very streets he now trod. They returned to Huangshan city and the hotel they had originally stayed at and even though it was still raining they went out in the evening to explore the Old Street area which, had none of the charm of the villages a bad was crassly commercial as many of the old areas of the cities he had visited in china, but it was still fascinating to see the old buildings and the predominant Hui architecture that was unique to the Anhui province. They didn’t eat out but returned to the hotel, had another takeaway and talked over the days sights and car journey. He tried to write and publish his blog but the internet was not willing. Though the day had been less strenuous than the mountain hikes he had been on he still felt wearied by the walking and once again as his head hit the pillow sleep overwhelmed him.